A Parable on Presumption by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: "Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, 'They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, 'This is the heir, Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.'
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?" They answered him, "He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times." Jesus said to them, "Did you never read the scriptures: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes'? Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit."
October is here. The birthday month of the Navy. Two Hundred Twenty-Six years old. Two Hundred Twenty-Six years of good order and disciple, self-sacrifice and teamwork, memories that will live on…one of the traits of military life that amazes civilians is the highly ordered structure and hierarchy. Those of higher rank have greater positions of leadership. They tend to have more privileges, but they also have much higher responsibility, there is no backing down from accountability. I learned this quickly, but before entering the Navy, rather as the oldest of four…I was the oldest, so I could drive the car first, I could order the younger ones around, it felt great! But, if tragedy struck, if something broke, I was the one who took the hit for the team…much as I tried to wiggle my way out of it, the ramous response was always, “Luke, you are the oldest!” Drat…and so I learned early on, rank hath its privileges, but rank also hath its responsibilities…
The workers in the vineyard don’t seem to quite get that in our Lord’s parable. They have been given the privilege of working in the owner’s vineyard, but they are totally disregarding the relationship they have with the landowner and the responsibility they have for him, they are like the second son from last week’s Gospel, who decides to ultimately ignore obedience to his father. They want to take things for themselves, and so they do away with the servants that are sent by the landlord. They even have the audacity to kill the landowner’s son. Did they win? Not at all, they sealed their own doom by ignoring the owner and acting as if that the vineyard was theirs to own. It would be as if I ignored our pastor and ran the parish as I pleased – don’t bite the hand that feeds you! The tenants forgot something crucial – they only ended up as tenants of the vineyard, because of the generosity of the landowner! And now, because of their greed and violence, they will pay the price for their poor decisions. A message directed by our Lord to Israel itself…the prophets have been sent to remind them of the Lord’s relationship of love with them, but they’ve continued to ignore or mistreat the message or the messenger. Management of the vineyard will need to change, for the tenants have lost touch with who they are…and they’re going to kill the Divine Son who comes to save them!
It would be like my forgetting that I am a Dundon. I’ve worked in the Navy, I’ve studied in Graduate School, I’ve lived in Italy, and through it all I’ve always…been…a Dundon. Something that I didn’t earn on my own, but was rather given to me as a priceless gifts. In the Dundon house I have always found a source of peace, I found comfort when life would get busy, because I was reminded of the privilege of who I was, a son and brother. From that I’m also reminded of the most important responsibilities, which flow from this identity. My name provides clarity, it reminds me of both my greatest privileges and responsibilities! The workers in the story today ignore the clarity of what they have and who they are, and so everything gets turned upside-down, they decide to kill the very ones sent by the hand who pays them, who essentially cares for them. When I receive a letter from my parents, I am overjoyed to see how things are going – but, if I were to follow the tenants’ example, I should burn up the letter and keep my life to myself! If I were to follow the tenants, I should forget my Dundon name, and live as my own whims dictate. Home, a symbol of peace, would then become a source of violence and strife. The vineyard itself, a symbol of peaceful work, has become a place of bloodshed. That’s what happens when we try to run with privileges but avoid responsibility…We have an identity crises…we have to remember, responsibility comes with the privilege of working in the vineyard, for the owner has invested in the crop of love, and love demands a response…these workers know how to take, but never give – they’ve forgotten who they are, and in so doing, they’ve forgotten how to love!
But our Lord is patient. Messengers came to remind the workers of the privilege of who they were, what name they shared, and the responsibilities that flowed from that name…what name? It’s not Dundon…then what? We will soon sing the Latin in the Hosanna, Benedictus qui venit in Nomine Domini…Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. The name of the Lord. How do we begin Mass? How do we begin praying the rosary? Or our family prayer before dinner? Or our prayers before going to bed? “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We have been called to the vineyard, not because we are temporary hired hands, but because we have the privilege of being baptized in His name, and so we share a common name from Him and with Him, and with that comes the priceless privilege of being His son or daughter, and with that also comes the responsibility of being His son or daughter. We have been given this identity, the eternal life of God at our baptism, and so we have the responsibility to use this gift, this privilege, at home, at work, and everywhere in between. Our Lord reminds us of our priceless identity, the priceless Name that we are all now related to, He not only sends messages to us, He actually comes to us, through His only Son, at this very Mass. May we always remember the privilege of being related to God Himself as He shares His name with us. May our lives responsibly live out such a gift in everything we think, say and do. With privilege comes responsibility; let’s take both, for then we’ll always remember who we are, who our family is, and where our home is…right here!!! “In the name of the Father of the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen”